Five ways to sharpen a pencil

A freshly sharpened yellow wooden pencil with pencil shavings, on a white background

You might be reading this and thinking, ‘surely there’s only one way to sharpen a pencil?’ — in which case, prepare for your eyes to be opened to a whole new world!

Otherwise, the chances are you are reading this because you know there are various ways to sharpen a pencil, and you would love to know which will work best for the pencils you use most often.

Either way, let’s jump in and explore how to sharpen a pencil.

1.      A handheld sharpener

A handheld sharpener is probably what pops into your mind when someone mentions sharpening a pencil.

Handheld sharpeners are small and therefore convenient to carry around in a pencil case for quick and easy sharpening jobs on the go.

This type of sharpener is no good for pastel pencils, but a quality handheld sharpener is ideal for the quick sharpening of graphite and colouring pencils when you’re away from your desk.

Don’t be tempted by 10p plastic sharpeners though; invest a little more in a high-quality sharpener for a tool you can rely on.

A good handheld sharpener to own is the Staedtler Metal Double Hole Pencil Sharpener. It has sharp blades and performs well; when the blades become duller, you can replace them to keep the sharpener performing at its best.

We’d recommend only purchasing sharpeners you can replace the blades of because a blunt blade is useless for sharpening and can cause more harm than good.

The Staedtler metal double hole pencil sharpener

2.      A mechanical pencil sharpener

When you’re at home, a mechanical pencil sharpener is ideal for the successful sharpening of graphite and coloured pencils.

Due to their size, mechanical pencil sharpeners aren’t ideal for carrying with you when drawing or writing outside of the home, but they do an excellent job in the home.

Many artists and creatives enjoy using mechanical sharpeners because they feel in control of the process — they can stop turning the handle when they like, and there is often a way to choose the type of point required.

Another benefit to this sharpener type is the lack of mess, as the curls of wood and graphite are caught in the collection box.

Favourites from our range of mechanical pencil sharpeners include the Staedtler Mars 502 Lead Pointer (which you can read a review of here) and the Caran d’Ache Sharpening Machine.

The Caran d'Ache sharpening machine

3.      An electric pencil sharpener

Similar in looks and size to a mechanical pencil sharpener, electric pencil sharpeners are a faster alternative for graphite and colouring pencils; insert the end of the pencil into the machine, and the job is done for you.

Some pencil users love electric sharpeners, but some don’t enjoy the speed and lack of control they have over the process.

There are two types of electric sharpener: battery-operated and plug-in.

4.      A craft knife

A craft knife is recommended for the sharpening of charcoal pencils, pastel pencils, and carbon pencils.

If you’re wondering how to sharpen a pencil with a knife, you start by exposing the lead, and you do this lower down the pencil than you would think — around an inch should work well.

Once the lead is fully exposed, you can either refine it with the knife if that’s all you have to hand (which can take a long time) or use a sanding block to achieve the perfect pencil tip in seconds.

While less convenient than the alternatives, the craft knife method is preferred by many because it is a hands-on method that enables the user to create the perfect point for their specific task — whether it needs to be fine and pointed or long and tapered.

A craft knife is a great example of how to sharpen a pencil without a sharpener and is, therefore, the preferred method of many a tradesperson and adventurer, too.

Please note that this method produces a fine mess, so be ready to clean your blade and pencil afterwards.

If you would like to give this method a go, then start with cheap pencils — it can be easy to break pencils until you get the hang of it.

5.      An integrated sharpener

Some pencils have an integrated sharpener, such as the Graf von Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil range, which conceals a sharpener within the pencil extender section.

The Graf von Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil (graphite) in Brown

If you’re a fan of pencils, you might enjoy reading our guide to pencil lead grades next.

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

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